The Gigi’s Cupcakes Franchise Story
From cleaning houses to the queen of cupcakes, Gigi Butler’s powerhouse cupcake franchising helps America celebrate year round
Gigi Butler wanted to make it big in Nashville and never dreamed that her treasured family recipes would be her ticket to fame — or that her autograph would be the signature Gigi’s icing swirl that has captured the hearts, and taste buds, of millions of Gigi’s Cupcakes customers.
Like many aspiring country singers, Gigi packed her bags and headed to Music City to establish her music career. A product of a hard-working family — her dad was an entrepreneur who had launched several small businesses — she wasn’t afraid of hard work. She cleaned houses by day and waited tables and sang at local music venues by night. After a decade of pursuing music, Gigi came to a pivotal point in her life. At 32, she realized that stardom and stage lights were not her destiny. She expanded her cleaning business and hired a few employees. Life was good.
A fateful phone call from her brother, Steve, altered her life course and inspired her to dream big once more. She was cleaning a client’s house when he called from New York to tell her about the customers clamoring for cupcakes at the city’s famous bakery. He had been in line for two hours for just one of their red velvet cupcakes. “These aren’t as good as yours and Mom’s,” Steve told her. “You should open a cupcake shop in Nashville!”
Bank after bank turned her down, laughing at the idea of funding a cupcake store. But Gigi did not give up. She took out $100,000 in cash advances from four personal credit cards to fund her baking business and started baking 12 dozen cupcakes every night for clients in the downtown area.
Restaurateur and franchisor, Alan Thompson, put a 1,000-square-foot space up for lease within walking distance of Nashville’s famous Music Row. Gigi saw the sign and told him about her vision to launch a bakery. She paid him three months’ rent in advance, knowing it was a big risk, but having big faith. Her parents helped her build out the location, and she spent nearly every penny she had to launch the first Gigi’s. By the time she opened on Feb. 21, 2008, she had $33 left to her name.
Gigi’s Cupcakes franchising: From frosting cupcakes to building a franchise
Soon after the original Gigi’s opened, Alan took some of her cupcakes to a church event. People could not stop eating them, or talking about them, and Alan immediately saw the potential for franchising. He was a successful businessman, having helped launch several profitable franchises, and he encouraged Gigi to franchise her concept — over-the-top gourmet cupcakes inspired by homegrown recipes. Alan, along with Gigi’s dad, mom, and brother, set out to franchise the Gigi’s Cupcakes brand. Gigi’s finishing touches and attention to detail — from cupcake decorating and baking techniques to signature packaging — would build a solid foundation for a growing and recognizable brand.
Gigi’s grew quickly; there were 55 locations by 2011. Today Gigi’s is over 100 locations strong. Gigi’s has brought its indulgent desserts and its line of cupcakes with a signature swirl to cities from Phoenix to Charlotte, with plans for continued expansion, particularly in the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest. We dominate the cupcake business as the largest and fastest-growing retail cupcake bakery in the United States.
Gourmet cupcakes and indulgent desserts baked with love
Gigi’s is founded on a proprietary collection of 300 recipes, many of them handed down generation to generation in Gigi’s family. Each cupcake recipe and design is tested over and over again and perfected by Gigi herself. Her signature “Gigi’s Swirl” is the finishing touch that sets Gigi’s gourmet cupcakes apart. Gigi’s Aunt Bennie is a valued member of the product development team who also helps with product staging. Many of Gigi’s classic recipes have an inspirational story or treasured memory, such as Texas Milk Chocolate inspired by Gigi’s great Aunt Ruby in Texas, and her Nodini’s Coconut Caramel, a cake that dates to the early 1900s when Gigi’s great-grandmother came to America from Italy.
Although our signature gourmet cupcake will always be the star of the show, today Gigi’s menu has expanded to include delicious individual cheesecakes, mini cupcakes, cookies and bread loaves, such as banana chocolate chip. We have more than a million members in our rewards club, and utilize best in class technology infrastructure. We also offer a variety of expansion models for franchisees to build their business: satellite stores, kiosks and cupcake trucks. Americans consume more than 700 million cupcakes a year, and Gigi’s is poised to dominate the celebration business, tapping the unlimited potential outside our bakeries’ four walls — B2B, catering and special events.
A struggling singer becomes a savvy business owner
Gigi appeared on an episode of CBS’ Undercover Boss in 2015, which was viewed by 15 million people. Her inspiring singing-to-baking story has made her a celebrity in the food world and landed her on the cover of Franchise Times. Today she is the face of Gigi’s, with true star power. Gigi is an integral part of the franchise leadership team. Despite her success, however, you can still often find her behind the counter at her original Gigi’s store in downtown Nashville, wearing an apron and greeting customers with a smile as big as the icing swirl on her signature cupcakes.